Funnily enough, the American Congress abolished the slave trade at roughly the same time that the British Parliament did, although it did less about enforcement. An illicit American slave trade continued right up to just before the civil war.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the United States had certain internal problems when it came to resolving the issue of slavery, which resulted in civil war in the s. Friend also recall that during the civil war Abraham Lincoln was described as having been persuaded by John Bright , a Member of this Parliament, to attach greater significance to the question of slavery? Effectively, that is how slavery became the key issue for the civil war—and it came from this House of Commons.
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Well, I am sure that that was added to by the House of Commons , although my hon. Friend must remember that there were already people in the United States who felt very strongly against slavery, and that the northern states had abolished it. The southern states, given their cotton production, thought it in their interest to keep it. There were even bigger forces at work than the notable force to which my hon. In , the Act was passed, and the then Prime Minister , William Grenville , who was very keen to railroad it through both Houses of Parliament , described it as.
This country was the first in Europe, other than Denmark, to outlaw the slave trade, and the Act was the catalyst for the adoption of similar legislation around the world. It became a moral benchmark of which other civilised societies rightly took note. The passage of the Act is heartening to those who are conscious of the early foundations of our democratic society.
It took place because of the wide dissemination of truths about the trade, because of the shifting and then harnessing of public opinion, and because of the actions and contributions of slaves themselves, coupled with the stoic perseverance of a few principled individuals. Ultimately, it secured something that could not happen in countries where political freedom was not yet known. Gentleman said that this was the first country in Europe to abolish slavery, which is absolutely true.
However, the first country in the world to abolish slavery was Haiti, which fought a revolution to do so under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Being only part way through my historical analysis, I wanted to come to Haiti—in a moment, in fact. I want to reiterate a point that has already been mentioned. The enlightened determination and actions of abolitionists had to shine out against a far darker backdrop. The course of slavery winds a long route throughout history, and when we consider events before —the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned this—it is with deep regret that we have to acknowledge an era in which the sale of men, women and children was carried out lawfully on behalf of this country, and on such a vast scale that it became a large and lucrative commercial enterprise.
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No wonder Wilberforce cried out, in his speech in the Commons in Those are words that we need to remember in the present day, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, in the case of modern slavery, to which I shall also return in a moment. Friend mentions the stoic perseverance of many individuals. I ask him to join me in acknowledging the contribution made by John Newton , the slave trader who became an abolitionist and parish priest of Olney, the town in which I now live.
This is becoming an interesting geographical and historical tour.
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John Newton was important partly in persuading William Wilberforce to continue in politics rather than lead a life of religious seclusion and that Christian principles needed to be put into action. Newton constantly counselled the abolitionists, so he played an important part. It is worth noting that the fight against the slave trade was also an early campaign against racism.
It was an important attribute of the abolitionists that they set out not only to end the slave trade, but to demonstrate that former slaves could live freely and prosperously with equality between every race. They pioneered the free colony of Sierra Leone and gave much support to the leaders of Haiti, who had thrown off their colonial masters.
The abolitionists believed not only in the relief of suffering but the establishment of racial equality. It must have been the first campaign of that kind. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will also acknowledge that much of the campaigning outlined what was happening in the slave colonies and the trade itself, not forgetting the uprising taking place in west Africa.
The slaves themselves played a major part in their freedom and it was people such as Thomas Clarkson who toured the country showing what the manacles of slavery were really about who had a massive effect on pushing Wilberforce and eventually forcing a reluctant Parliament to do something. That is an important point, because the campaign was not just a parliamentary campaign.
Thomas Clarkson played an enormous part in the powerful extra-parliamentary campaign. In a world with so many recording devices of every kind, it is hard for us to imagine a political world without film or photographs, and no documentary of what was happening. The campaigners of the time had to establish facts that had never been nailed down and come up with statistics that no one had ever assembled. They had to persuade people of something that was true even though other people were prepared to say that the opposite was true. People would not have known initially whom to believe, and that makes the scale of the abolitionists' achievement all the greater.
I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on an entertaining and informative speech. I am learning a lot just from listening to it —[ Interruption. Does he accept that it is a mark of the success of those brave individuals, such as Sir William Roscoe in Liverpool, and of their dedication to the campaign—and the words that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted from an early speech on the subject—that they brought about such a huge change in the culture in the UK that our towns and cities now have memorials to those great people because of the work that they did on slavery?
Let me use that intervention to turn to my next point, in the interests of someone else being able to give a speech eventually.
On this Day
Lady is really talking about reasons why we should be proud of what was achieved, including by people in Liverpool who campaigned against the slave trade despite the presumption that the city should be in favour of its continuing. I wish to argue that just as the existence of the slave trade should be a cause of British regret, so its abolition should be a matter of British pride.
Not only did Britain abolish the slave trade: after , it lobbied, bullied and bribed other nations to follow its example. Britain was the world's foremost maritime power, and the Royal Navy bravely enforced the abolition of slavery—an assignment that was to be one of the most protracted and gruelling in its history. The suppression of the slave trade was described as.
Over a period of 40 years, the Navy was said to have freed , slaves. The moral case, once made and enshrined in law, was upheld over the coming decades through a commitment to international diplomacy and the application of British force. Although the outlawing of the slave trade has become synonymous with the life of William Wilberforce , he himself pointed out that he was. Elizabeth Heyrick was one of the foremost women campaigners for the abolition of the institution of slavery after the slave trade itself had been abolished.
We must remember, too, that we are unable to mention the bravery of numerous slaves: history is silent about that, because their actions were not written down at the time. We should also be proud that one of the great achievements of the abolitionist campaign was political engagement through the mobilisation of public opinion. Once people in this country realised that the nature of the slave trade was incompatible with the values that they upheld, they acted in their hundreds of thousands.
Petitions signed by men and women with no vote and thus no method of lobbying Parliament flowed from all corners of the country. One petition from the inhabitants of Manchester measured 7 m in length, and the masses of anti-slave trade tracts that were distributed were vigorously read. People attended lectures and meetings, and Thomas Clarkson—already mentioned by Jeremy Corbyn and one of Wilberforce's indispensable allies—covered 35, miles in seven years on speaking tours. Even with all the modern forms of transport available to us today, we would still consider that to be a large total.
Clarkson took with him shackles and other instruments from slave ships, along with samples of African cloth to show that an alternative and civilised trade could be substituted for slavery. In one of the first consumer boycotts in history, hundred of thousands of people refused to use West Indian sugar.
The humanity displayed by the British public was compared to. Gentleman has referred to the sugar boycott. Does he agree that women led the way in making that political statement, as they were the ones who bought and cooked the food? It turned out that women were in a powerful position to impose that boycott, for the reasons that the hon.
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Lady set out.